For Josh Needleman (senior), water polo is life.
He had his first taste of polo after getting cut from his high school swim team. Growing up in Florida, Needleman had ample time in and around the water, but his first year with a club polo team did not sell him on the sport.
“I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t something where I said ‘Oh, this is the sport I’m going to play,’” Needleman said. “Water polo’s not the kind of sport where in a year you can pick up pretty much anything — you really need to play for something like three years before you know what’s going on.”
To gain more experience in the pool, Needleman turned to the Olympic Development Program in his area and set his sights on playing in college. He credits former Occidental water polo coach Larry Zubrin with bringing him onto the Occidental squad and providing an opportunity to play NCAA-level polo.
As the team’s goalie, Needleman has distinguished himself as a hard worker and a team leader, both in and out of the pool, according to teammates. In his four years on the Tiger squad, Needleman and the Tigers have faced their fair share of challenges, but his dedication to the team remains unwavering through it all.
“From the very beginning, he was one of the kids I didn’t have to worry about in terms of commitment,” head coach Chris Lee said. “I don’t choose captains, they tend to happen in terms of personality, and this year Josh is one of those leaders.”
Needleman describes himself as a generally defense-minded person — a trait that aids him well in the goal. The role of the goalkeeper changes from person to person, but teammate Adam Florsheim (junior) recognizes the active role Needleman plays in the cage.
“He has to direct where everyone else needs to be, making sure everyone is in the right place,” Florsheim said. “He’s the last line of defense, and he will make some huge saves to keep us in the game.”
Needleman admits that he demands a lot from the players but notes that some of their greatest successes came from times when they are working well together as a team.
“Last year at the SCIAC championships, we played a very good game and upset Pomona, and that was the highlight of the season,” he said. “This season, as long as we are able to finish on a positive note, I will be very happy.”
When reflecting on his time at Occidental, his passion for the sport and dedication shone through. Though he may be tough on himself and his team, Needleman’s years on the Occidental team have given purpose to his time in college.
Slightly misty-eyed, he predicted his reaction to his last match.
“It’s going to kill me,” Needleman said. “I will personally cry in my last game. This has been the defining aspect of my college career. What I’m going to look back on the most fondly is playing water polo here at Oxy … I think that in this moment right now, we have something really special — the ability to play this sport right now at this level.”
After graduation, Needleman hopes to continue his polo career playing abroad or coaching — he knows his career with water polo will not end this November.
“He just wants to be a part of the sport,” Lee said. “He’s been coaching a little bit, and he will be a great coach. He has lots of possibilities — he’s got the bug.”
Needleman and the rest of the Tiger squad take on the Caltech Beavers today at Caltech and will return to Taylor Pool Saturday for the final home game of the season against Redlands. From there, they head to the SCIAC tournament Nov. 20.